A lot has changed in the 30-something years I’ve been the pastor of local churches. Social media has made preaching a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week opportunity—or challenge, depending on your point of view. But really now, who would have thought we would spend so much time trying to condense the teaching of Christ to 140 characters?
There have been other changes, as well. Now, you can preach and not be physically present at all. Video venues have made it possible for one preacher to be in several churches at the same time, or if needed, at different times. Our imagination, it seems, is our only limit.
Of course, not all of the changes have been positive. There has been the coarsening of our culture. You can’t get your point across unless you’re screaming at the top of your lungs.
Fewer and fewer of our people are attending church, and those who attend do so in less frequent patterns. Biblical illiteracy is appalling, and too many of our children only know Jesus from “South Park” episodes. Yeah, I know, that would be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth.
Gradually, little bit by little bit, we have been pushed to the fringes of our society.
Neighborhoods no longer want churches, and zoning requests to build or expand church facilities now are opposed routinely in public meetings. Many times, churches are refused permission to build at all. Neighbors, it seems, are concerned about traffic and noise. This would have been unheard of 30 years ago. Lists of the most admired Americans won’t include a prominent Christian leader, not even the Pope. Our culture gets its theology from Lady Gaga, the Kardashians and Bill Maher. You think I’m kidding? Hang out with some of your young adults, and then let me know how far off base I am.
We no longer preach from the center of the public square. We’ve been pushed to the fringes. We’re reluctantly given moments in the cultural conversation, but mostly we’re not wanted at all. Several years ago, when I would introduce myself as a pastor, my office would be given a measure of respect. Now, people look at me and think, “Why would you do that with your life?”
We now preach from the wilderness, and honestly, that’s not bad news at all. In fact, it’s actually refreshing, perhaps liberating. According to the great theologian Kris Kristofferson, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” In some ways, our preaching is now freer than ever before.
The public contract between American society and American church has been broken. For generations, there was an unspoken contract between American society and the American church. The contract went this way: Society won’t say anything about what we preach as long as we teach our members to be good citizens of our nation.
Now, that contract is gone, and thank God it is. Our churches no longer can be satisfied with reinforcing the status quo. Too many families are being ground up in the economic chaos of our times. Young men and women are having hope ripped from their lives much too early. Nothing seems to matter. The game seems to be rigged. People are left to find truth wherever they can. They’ll use it as long as it works and when it stops working—whatever that means—they’ll find another truth by which to live; and when they can’t find it where they’ve been looking, they’ll look somewhere else…such as the wilderness on the fringes of the social conversation.
That’s where they’ll find us. Similar to John the Baptist before us and Elijah before him, the wilderness is where we preach. Outside the cluttering noise of the city, in places where people can find some space to lay out all of their sadness and cry out their grief from all they’ve lost. They’ll be looking for someone who finally will tell them the truth. They don’t mind if the truth hurts as long as it’s the truth.
So grab your Bible and find your place in the nowhere of our broken world, and make your home there. People are still looking for “a voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord; to make His paths straight!”
People sought Elijah and Job in the forgotten places because they knew one thing: Job and Elijah would tell them the truth. Our culture will seek us if it’s sure we’ll finally do one thing: Speak truth.